Middle School Curriculum – Above and Beyond

Sixth graders at Rutgers Prep work on their podcast

Franklin J. ’23 and Brett D. ’23 work on their podcast


From a developmental standpoint, the middle school years are rich with possibility. At Rutgers Prep, our divisional leadership is hard at work ensuring that our students have opportunities to develop in areas that sometimes fall outside of the traditional academic disciplines… but are no less critical to the development of our students. This commitment to keeping our curriculum fresh is evident in both our middle school’s Ideas and Innovation programming, as well as in the students’ “Cycle Classes,” which students rotate through over the course of each academic year.

This year’s sixth grade Cycle Classes, for example, are Citizen Kid, Digital Kid, Art, and Latin. In their Citizen Kid classes, middle school students will grapple with primary sources and the civic responsibilities of citizens. As New Jersey heads into a gubernatorial race, our students will have an opportunity to interact directly with at least one of the gubernatorial candidates. We encourage our students to not only seek out the topics with which they are passionately engaged as learners, but also to actively consider their role as future citizens.

Students in our Digital Kid Cycle Class will be learning to keyboard, thereby increasing the efficiency of so much of the rest of their work. (Although based on research about how we learn best, the Rutgers Prep middle school also maintains a division-wide commitment to note-taking and journaling by hand.) Digital Kid students also work with recording their own voices, eventually moving to podcasting. This focus on developing one’s voice is also a division-wide commitment, as the school makes a conscious effort to ensure that students become more comfortable as public speakers and presenters. (This commitment is particularly in evidence when our middle schoolers travel beyond campus in the service of learning; at a recent trip to Philadelphia, members of the US Constitution Center’s staff were impressed with our seven graders’ poise and self-possession.)

Much of the thinking about curricular offerings at Rutgers Prep is driven and supported by the latest research; art classes are overwhelmingly associated with positive outcomes for students, and introducing students to Latin as sixth graders gives them a taste of language study so that they’ll be better prepared to select Latin or Spanish as a part of their regular seventh grade curriculum. Middle school-aged students are primed to embrace new ideas and get started on the development of sophisticated skills that will foster lifelong learning interests.  At Rutgers Prep, our middle school curriculum is designed to provide students with a range of tools to support that intellectual development and enable effective learning.

Ideas & Innovations Courses Offer Choice, Exploration

Rutgers Prep’s continuing commitment to student-centered learning is nowhere more evident than in our Middle School Ideas & Innovations courses. New to the curriculum this year, the Ideas & Innovations courses are available to all 6th through 8th graders at Rutgers Prep, and represent a broad range of topics which students engage with for about eight weeks before moving on to their next “I & I” course. The first courses offered through this program ranged from Coding to Financial Literacy; students were given a list of eight to choose from and the vast majority of this year’s participants received a course from among their top three choices. “Choice is part of the point of this program,” stated Middle School Principal Bob Marotto. “Students are heading into academic environments in which they will have more and more choice over their course selections, so we wanted to give our students a low-stakes way to get the feeling of making these kinds of choices.” Middle School Assistant Principal Stacy McMillen shared, “Another key benefit of the I & I courses is that they give students access to greater curricular diversity; in most cases, students will be engaging with a field of inquiry that they typically wouldn’t have access to in our regular curriculum.” The I & I courses are designed with an eye towards creating a collaborative, low-pressure environment; they are non-graded, hands-on, and project-based. The response from students and teachers has been gratifyingly enthusiastic; take a look at the photos below for some glimpses into the first curricular cycle’s worth of courses.

Visiting Artist at Rutgers Prep

Chic Streetman
Guitarist and singer Chic Streetman spent several days on the Rutgers Prep campus recently as an artist-in-residence, working primarily with our Middle School students. Streetman expressed his message of positivity and connection through both word and song, and noted that in his experience, the Rutgers Prep community is graced with an unusual degree of diversity and openness.

“A lot of my work,” he explained, “ is about trying to look at who you are, working towards learning about who you are, and then feeling good about who you are. Nobody can be ‘you’ as good as you can be you! As we get older, we become more concerned about what other people think. I love working with students, because they’re open to connecting and participating; part of what I try to do is help students re-focus on who they are.”

He was fun. — Gabriel F. ‘21

I liked his unusual ways of getting us involved. He really pulled us in. — Krithvi K. ‘22

It’s cool how a lot of kids sometimes think stuff that is supposed to be inspirational is boring, but he was really fun… and he remembered kid’s names! — Harrison S. ‘22

I liked how he wouldn’t explain things ahead of time, we would just jump in and start doing things… and then later he would go back tell us what we had done. He took things we already knew and then changed it up and made it new. — Siddhi P. ‘22

His speaking voice doesn’t sound all that strong, but when he sings and plays the guitar, it is beautiful. You can tell that he loves music. And he really understands how we learn, and the connections between music and rhythm and learning! — Jamie S. ’22

On his final day on campus, Streetman performed at the Upper School’s morning meeting; much to the delight of the assembled students and faculty, he welcomed Student Council President Gita Ganti ‘17 to join him for one song. Before heading back to the west coast – Streetman makes his home in Seattle – he shared one more thought about his work. “I understand that there are always going to be positive and negative forces at work. That’s just the way life is; there has to be a balance. It’s a little bit like a seesaw. And given that… I’ve taken it as my work to try to come down as heavily on the side of positivity as possible.”

Rutgers Prep is well-known for its culture of appreciative inclusion; as a learning community, we understand that everyone learns best when they feel able to bring their complete and unique selves to the challenges ahead. Visits from artists like Chic Streetman help reinforce and reinvigorate our core values; we hope that the students and staff with whom he connected during this recent visit will continue to resonate with the powerful perspective he so eloquently shared.
Chic Streetman crowd